When Stephen Donnelly met Boris Johnson and other stories
Miriam Lord’s week: The Brexit saga rumbles on, but what could Theresa be trying to tell the DUP?
The delegation of TDs and Senators who met Boris Johnson on Monday in the foreign office in London
Finian McGrath: Hiding. Photograph: Eric Luke
Máire Geoghegan Quinn: Handbagging v groin-kicking
Slieve Russell Hotel: Fine Gael conference venue
A delegation from Leinster House on a friendship visit to London this week held a number of meetings with their Westminster counterparts, including controversial British foreign secretary Boris Johnson. The visiting TDs and Senators posed for a photograph with him in his Whitehall office and Boris was very chummy and charming.
Brexit was the main topic of discussion and, judging by the reaction we heard afterwards from some of the Irish visitors, BoJo didn’t exactly impress with his grasp of how serious the implications of Brexit could be for Ireland.
In the photograph, while all the other politicians are smiling for the camera, Fianna Fáil’s Brexit spokesman, Stephen Donnelly, sits stoney-faced. He would be counted among the ranks of the unimpressed.
In a curious twist, Donnelly credits Boris Johnson for being one of the reasons he went into politics. Johnson was his last client when he worked for management consultants McKinsey. His team carried out a study for the Mayor of London’s office, figuring out how to target a huge chuck of philanthropic money at disadvantaged parts of the capital. They set up a citywide volunteering scheme, which is still in operation.
While he was working in city hall, in and around politics and steering through a very positive project, he thought “this is what politics should be” and decided to come back home and see how he could make a difference.
“You are partly responsible for me being here today,” he told the foreign secretary.
Naturally, Boris was chuffed.
Seven wonders of Dáil dining in the dark
On Tuesday night, TDs and Senators enjoyed a five-course tasting menu in the darkened confines of the Oireachtas private dining room. The fundraiser for the National Council for the Blind was organised by Clare senator Martin Conway.
Some unkind individuals in the vicinity of the members’ bar were overhead lamenting it was a shame the diners couldn’t be gagged as well. “I’d pay double if they weren’t allowed to talk either” said one TD, who, like many of his colleagues, bought tickets but didn’t take up the challenge.
The brave diners were blindfolded outside the restaurant door and led to their tables. As they could see nothing, a tap on the right shoulder from a waiter was their signal that the next course was being placed in front of them.
“This unique experience heightens people’s sense of taste, touch, smell and communication. Diners on the night got an insight into what it’s like to live life as a blind or vision impaired person,” said Senator Conway, who is visually impaired.
Diners included TDs Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, John Lahart, James Brown, Mattie McGrath, Micheal Harty, Fergus O’Dowd and Josepha Madigan. Senators included John Dolan, Paul Coghlan, Colm Burke, Maria Byrne and John Dolan.
For junior Minister Finian McGrath, it was more a case of dining in the doghouse than dining in the dark. The Independent Alliance TD was grateful for the chance “to put on a blindfold, hide in a darkened room for 2½ hours and escape from Pyongyang and the John Halligan job interview.”
The talented Oireachtas catering team served up ceviche of salmon with coriander, lime and pink peppercorn to start, followed by prawn bisque with armanac. Next was Vietnamese spring rolls followed by grilled medallion of beef with potato and horseradish mash, Madeira sauce and sautéed baby spinach.
Desert was a “Seven Wonders of the World” selection on a tiered stand. One of the mini puds included a panacotta laced with popping candy.
“It was amazing. The food was fantastic but my shirt and tie were destroyed by the end of it,” said Finian.
When the lights came up at the end of the night the diners were covered in food. “They were wearing half their dinner and the tables were destroyed,” said an observer.
“What they didn’t know is that some TDs were tip-toeing in to have a look at them eating. They nearly died trying not to laugh. It was like watching the chimps tea party at the zoo.”
A highlight of the night was Senator Catherine Noone’s reaction when she ate the popping candy, her screams terrorising her sensory deprived fellow diners.
The “Seven Wonders of the World” dessert is a big feature of the new Christmas afternoon tea experience in the Oireachtas restaurant, which is already proving a hit with politicians entertaining friends and constituents.
Young Dev and the Ringer
It was lovely to hear the bracing tones of Michael Ring on radio during the week. The Ringer did a long interview with RTÉ’s Seán O’Rourke to say how he loves his job and how wonderfully well he’s getting on in the Department of Rural Stuff and how he has so much to do and how life as a senior Minister is everything he ever dreamt it to be and more.
He certainly had no idea why there were recent reports about him not being happy with his lot and complaining bitterly about this at Cabinet and being taken to task subsequently by the Taoiseach for making a show of him in front of the neighbours from the Independent Alliance.
One person who will have been delighted to hear the Mouth of Mayo holding forth again is Fianna Fail’s Eamon Ó Cuív, who shadows the Ringer in the Dáil. Young Dev was getting very concerned about his counterpart’s lack of visibility.
In fact, not so long ago, he felt compelled to note in the Dáil that Ring wasn’t in the chamber, although he couldn’t really blame him for this.
“Some days, he must wonder whether he is really a Minister at all because he has a department without function and money ... Interestingly, he’s not even listed for oral questions. I have seen the list until Christmas.”
Young Dev was puzzled. “For some reason, the Government doesn’t treat him as a senior player. He is not considered a senior hurler and the Government is not giving him any questions.”
He told Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, who was on duty in the chamber at the time: “He is chomping at the bit. He told me he is absolutely crazy to come in and answer some questions.”
Ó Cuív wanted to know when his opposite number will be allowed to act like the rest of his Cabinet colleagues, “like a senior player”, and come in to answer oral questions on his brief as Minister for Rural and Community Development.
No doubt he’ll be “on the rota” at some stage, Frances assured him.
Still no sign, though.
Come back Michael.
We miss you.
‘Handbagging’ – the insult
When the Taoiseach came over all precious in the Dáil on Wednesday, chiding a mystified Micheál Martin for using unparliamentary language and wondering if the Ceann Comhairle might check to see if the offending utterance was on the Dáil’s list of prohibited words, we took a gander at the list.
It isn’t much of a list, with most of the offending words from more genteel days and derived from “Salient Rulings of the Chair.” This is when a ceann comhairle, usually following a protest from an indignant TD, declares a particular epithet or insult out of bounds.
Over the years, the rulings have been more honoured in the breach than the observance.
They include: brat; buffoon; chancer; communist; corner boy; coward; fascist; gurrier; guttersnipe; hypocrite; rat; scumbag; scurrilous; and yahoo.
“Handbagging” was placed on the list in October of 1992.
The incident shows that issues of gender equality – being ventilated with such passion by women today – were just as relevant nearly 25 years ago.
Answering questions on Aer Lingus’s finances, the Fianna Fáil minister for transport, Maire Geoghegan Quinn, informed the Dáil she was still waiting on Aer Lingus to give her specific proposals on how the company intended to tackle its growing financial crisis. She had “indicated strongly” that a number of options should be considered. The company promised to get back to her after the next board meeting.
“The handbagging didn’t work,” remarked Fine Gael’s Austin Currie.
MGQ did not like Currie’s reference. She complained to the chair.
“On a point of order, I find it particularly difficult to accept that terminology because it is an insult to women. If Deputy Currie, Deputy [Charlie] Flanagan or any male member of this house went to a State board and expressed openly, frankly and bluntly their thoughts and the thoughts of the Government to the board, they would be admired by the male members of this House.
“When a female minister does exactly that, suddenly she is accused in a sexist way of handbagging.”
Austin Currie said her comments were “ungracious”.
Alan Dukes, by then a former leader of Fine Gael, waded in with his opinion. “The minister wasn’t handbagging; she was groin-kicking.”
Currie withdrew the remark at the ceann comhairle’s request and insisted he wouldn’t want to cause offence to the minister, or for that matter, to any member of the house. “Or to women” added Máire.
Certainly not, agreed Currie, while noting that the word had been used in media reports of her meeting with Aer Lingus and she didn’t object to them.
“She was going kicking, not handbagging” interjected Dukes. Although it’s more likely he said “groin” instead of “going”.
At this point, ceann comhairle Seán Treacy made a salient ruling for the list. “I deem the reference to ‘handbagging’, especially to a lady member of this house, to be unparliamentary.”
But Dukes had to have the last word. “Groin-kicking would be much more appropriate.”
It’s a pity MGQ didn’t put Alan’s statement to the test there and then.
The price of democracy
The topsy-turvy Fine Gael conference kicked off last evening with Taoiseach and party leader Leo Varadkar doing his big finishing number at start of proceedings to avoid clashing with tonight’s football match in Copenhagen.
Leo delivered his first keynote address in the Slieve Russell Hotel in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan. It’s a lovely establishment and Fine Gael negotiated a keen overnight rate for visiting delegates and media.
All in all, a night away which wouldn’t break the bank. Fine Gael doesn’t charge admission to their gigs.
It’s different in Northern Ireland, where the DUP holds its annual conference in a couple of weeks. Media representatives wishing to cover the event, and who didn’t apply for accreditation before October 31st, have to pay £150 for the pleasure.
The party should make a handy few bob as a result – it seems there has been an unusually large demand for passes from across the water, now that Theresa May is propping up the DUP to the tune of £1 billion in return for its support at Westminster.
Meanwhile, we see Mrs May has appointed a new under-secretary of state for Northern Ireland. Lord Duncan of Springbank was appointed last month and we see in his very impressive biography that Ian Duncan “lives with his husband and cat in Edinburgh”.
Is Theresa trying to tell the DUP something?